by Kevin Brown, Pastor, The Perfecting Church
As we prepare for our sixth trip to the West Bank in October, I’m sure some are still wondering why we would continue to invest time and resources to go work on someone else’s problems. We have plenty of problems right here in our own communities! Truth be told I fought through the same thoughts as I sat in my West Bank hotel room 37 months ago sensing God’s call to “become the help” in that part of the world Quite a few people suggested, “you should go later”, “you’re such a young church”, “you don’t even have a building.” But those thoughts were like the ones the disciples had when the woman poured the expensive oil on Jesus, washing His feet with her hair. Who are we to determine which need in the world is greater? The priority and timing as well as our time and resources are His.
I remember one person who was encouraging us to follow God. It was the same person who had brought me on the trip and introduced me to people he knew in that part of the world. In fact The Perfecting Church had a shining example of what a group of disciples could do in a hard part of the world. Northwood and my Pastor Bob Roberts had been doing this for decades. They had been and still are a key part of transforming Vietnam, among others, a place that was once totally closed to Christian efforts. However by giving their time and talents to meet unmet needs they found themselves welcome in Vietnam. Through its small, consistent, acts of service NorthWood was ultimately invited to be a part of the process of change in that part of the world. Teachers and educators from their church ultimately wrote and helped implement the curriculum for special education that’s now used throughout Vietnam.
I’ve read Acts 1:8 and even preached and taught from it many times. I’ve always seen this text as the foundation of the early church. My focus in these passages had always been the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and the church. I had never given much thought to the charge Jesus was giving His soon to be formed church — “and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” They understood it though and from its inception the church has always been glocal (existing locally and globally). The apostles traveled to the uttermost parts of the world, preaching and living out the gospel of the Kingdom of God. My thought had always been someone else will go — that’s not my call. God’s thought for us has always been, “You go.” I’m not saying every person must go (although I can’t see why they wouldn’t) but I am saying every local church should be going. Jesus didn’t tell them when you get everything up and running go. When you get established go. When you have buildings with steeples go. It was clear that His vision for the church was for it to exist and reach beyond its local address. This changed me and it changed The Perfecting Church. My entire picture of the church, its role and function, were all based on my local experience and trying to make “our little familiar world better”. Jesus knew how weak, judgmental and limited a gathering of disciples focused only locally and on themselves would become. We’re all missionaries because this earth is not our home. Getting out of our familiar context to serve others supernaturally plants this truth deep in our hearts.
The “ends of the earth” represents “other countries”. Many of us send money abroad. We may even support a local missionary effort. Some of us may even have missionaries in our local church. But Jesus told His disciples to be the witnesses to the ends of the earth or “other countries”. I have learned personally that obeying this command develops a Kingdom mentality in the one who obeys. It brings about a new found sensitivity to the fact that Jesus loves and died for all nations. It delivers us from thinking that those of us in the USA are the “end all-be all” and everyone must think like us. Being a witness in “other countries” puts a demand on our relationship with Christ that is entirely transforming. They don’t speak the same language. They don’t think the same way. They don’t live the same way. They don’t do things the way we think they should be done. This total lack of familiarity creates the need for a child-like dependence on God that is life changing.
This idea of using our gifts, talents, time and passions to reach out beyond ourselves has become the DNA and culture of our church. What others had warned was happening too early actually saved us from it being too late. Most of our churches today get so busy constructing and sustaining internal programs they never make it out of the four-walls to actually impact their cities and the world. We learned it’s not about how many we can jam into a building, but how many we can love like Jesus.
Engaging globally has informed our work here locally. This week alone members of our church will be working with unwed mothers who need help in learning effective child care methods and in becoming self-sustaining adults; women who have suffered from depression or cared for someone who has are conducting a workshop in town with other women who are facing the same thing; our church band will be hosting the finale of its 28-week free music program, which has taught percussion, basic music theory, harmony and melody. Being the church instead of just going to church has literally begun somewhat of a movement here in our region. It’s amazing how attractive the life of Jesus becomes when we live it out beyond the Sunday gathering. We still don’t have a building! But our nearly 1,300 members and the Mayor in our neighboring town would like us to get one. He wants to make sure we don’t leave and we feel we simply need a place to plan and pray for the next time we go.